I closed the blinds, drew the drapes, pulled on my pajamas, climbed back into the unmade bed – thankful for the cool hug of the sheets – pulled the covers high over my ears, tunneled out an air hole, and allowed the heavy, hot tears of grief to come.
I meant for their arms to hold my babies as they grew. I had expected their faces to wallpaper all the days I’m given. Their wisdom was to be our treasure as we aged; their marriages were to parallel ours through many springs and winters.
Our church family dissolved right before our eyes. We walked out of solid, white doors knowing it was the final curtain for many of us. It was September 2006.
That was not my initiation into church hurt. Oh no. My heart was sufficiently broken by the Church before I was a proficient reader.
And I’m no anomaly. I can immediately think of three recent casual interactions with three different individuals sharing a tale of hurt involving three different churches.
Tragically, two of those three are no longer regularly attending church anywhere.
Is this resonating more than you wish it were? Congratulations. With all sincerity, I commend you for your church hurt.
Hurt is a facet of love. If you have been hurt by the Church, it simply means you opened your heart to it. You stepped in. You engaged from a vulnerable space. That is commendable. It means that at one time you invested enough to put yourself out there. That’s the only way hurt happens. People who sneak in and dash out have no skin in the game and probably escape unscathed.
However, he who invests little benefits little.
As a lifelong beneficiary and purveyor of church hurt, I suggest we need a different lens for this unfortunate reality.
Hurt is not an infirmity of the Church; it is an inevitability.
There is good and bad news here. The bad news is – if you continue to attend church and plug in – you will get your feelings hurt again. The good news is it has nothing to do with you. Everyone in every church will have their happy bruised in time.
I’ll wage my daily Diet Pepsi habit on it.
Answer me this. When were your feelings last hurt by your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your friends? Your in-laws?
It’s the law of selfish people. Where two or more are gathered, there will be hurt feelings.
The Church is a relationship not a restaurant.
I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I mean we bring different levels of commitment to those two instances.
After we left our beloved church family in the scenario above, we ran into a middle-aged man who had served as a deacon with Chris.
Chris: Hey, man; it’s good to see you! How’s your family; are you guys still at XYZ Church?
Man: We are doing well, and yeah, we’re still there. For me, to leave would be akin to divorcing my wife.
Chris and I smugly shook our heads, incredulous at what we deemed his unwarranted loyalty. And while we still know we were obedient to leave, I also have a more seasoned understanding of what he meant.
We commit to any relationship because the value to us exceeds the risk of hurt. And once we are hurt, we usually do the hard work to pursue resolution and forgiveness because that relationship is worth it to us.
We want to continue to make memories and partake in snort laughs and cry shared tears, so we commit to healing. This posture is appropriate in the Church. Because it is a growing, changing, living, messy organism of flawed people. Its identity isn’t that of a service provider; it’s that of a person.
Grace doesn’t reside on a one-way street.
I’m crazy about grace. Because God keeps me keenly aware of how much I need it. There are a few hairy rules about grace, though.
Grace must be undeserved. That’s what it is. It is “unmerited favor.” Which means if we are extending affection, forgiveness, leniency to someone we believe deserves it, it isn’t grace. It may be appropriate and justified. But it isn’t grace.
Grace must travel in two directions. Let’s say I get my feelings hurt because I haven’t been to church in a month and no one called to check on me. Or that I recently went through a divorce and felt snubbed by people at church. Or that I was overlooked for a leadership role I feel I deserved. Or that I brought my crock pot macaroni into the fellowship hall and the other ladies were in a circle talking and didn’t acknowledge my presence or contribution.
I will expect these people to show me grace for my absenteeism, my bitterness and unforgiveness towards my ex, my indignation about being passed over, or my curt reply to the ladies at lunch after the service. But I will likely give no thought to the grace I am required to extend to them for their busyness, their uncertainty about how to navigate my volatile, messy emotions, perhaps even their exclusion or judgment.
We will often beat the drum of grace for our favorite sinner, usually ourselves, without a thought about what grace requires of us in the other direction.
People aren’t nicer outside the church; we just expect less of them.
Should church people be kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental because they love Jesus? Unequivocally, yes.
Are you those things?
I don’t know about you, but this becoming more like Jesus isn’t as easy as you might think. In my prayers, I often apologize to the Lord that I’m not farther along in this transformation gig than I am. I gossip. I am a glutton. I am proud. I am bitter. I confess and turn from these sins only to find I am wracked with others.
I am the hurter and the hurt. And you probably are too.
As marriage or parenting keeps us desperately aware of our need for Jesus, so does being part of the Church. Because when my sinfulness bumps into yours, relational messiness results.
Jesus was hurt by the Church.
I know this guy who was sold down the river by one of his best friends. The “friend” was bribed by authorities to corroborate trumped up charges. “Friend” agreed and actually led them to the guy for his arrest. The guy was hanging out with the rest of their friend group, but they all scattered as the whole thing went down so they wouldn’t be implicated.
They all went into hiding, afraid they’d be drawn into the fray. One “friend” lied repeatedly about his association with the guy, and they all allowed him to be sentenced to death without ever coming to his defense or testifying about the false charges.
Yet at his death, he blanketed them with forgiveness.
And they became the Church. And changed the world.
Do we really want to miss out on that?
I was hesitant to write this post because the last thing I ever want to do is dishonor the Church.
I esteem the Church with adoration and reverence. Which is why I think we’re afraid to talk about this in the open as a body of believers. But here’s the thing; I see gifted, passionate believers tapping out, and that’s not okay.
You don’t have to come to my church. We’ll probably hurt you if you do. But get in a church somewhere. And know that they’re going to hurt you too. Not because they mean to. For the most part, I believe people everywhere are doing the best they know to do. But because it’s the law of selfish people.
Whose agenda is advanced when we neglect meeting together?
Some of my greatest hurts have happened in the context of the Church. But so have my greatest blessings.
The risk and messy hard work are worth it, friend. They are.